Everton 0 Arsenal 1: Vermaelen hits the heights as Gunners leapfrog Spurs
23:24 GMT, 21 March 2012
It was all in his smile. After a season when he has often appeared persecuted and browbeaten, Arsene Wenger had a look on Wednesday night that confirmed he is happy and content once more.
He has good reason to be. Though Wenger must wait another 12 months before he can end Arsenal’s trophy drought, it appears increasingly likely that he will lead his club back into the Champions League once more.
In beating a typically energetic Everton side 1-0 at Goodison Park, Arsenal not only showed a side to their play that many felt was lacking, they struck a huge psychological blow in leaping above Tottenham to grab third place in the Barclays Premier League.
No doubting Thomas: Vermaelen nods Arsenal in front with a powerful header from Robin van Persie's corner
Everton: Howard, Hibbert, Heitinga, Distin, Baines, Pienaar, Fellaini, Osman (Gueye 78), Drenthe (Anichebe 78), Cahill (Stracqualursi 87), Jelavic. Subs not used: Mucha, Jagielka, McFadden, Neville.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Gibbs, Walcott (Gervinho 79), Arteta, Song, Ramsey, Rosicky (Djourou 87), Van Persie. Subs not used: Fabianski, Andre Santos, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chamakh, Benayoun.
Scorer: Vermaelen 8.
Referee: Lee Mason.
What a turnaround. When they drew 0-0
at Bolton on February 1, Arsenal were 12 points behind their neighbours
and seemingly going nowhere in seventh spot. Now, after Thomas
Vermaelen’s header extended their winning sequence to a sixth game, they
‘We were resilient, focused and had a
great desire to defend,’ said Wenger. ‘You’ve seen a side of us that
usually people don’t know but it was the only way to get a result. We
have learned in the last month. We have taken six points on Merseyside
in two weeks, 180 minutes of intense fight.
‘We have to keep on fighting for each other, retain our humility and not think that the job is done because it isn’t. I was always optimistic because if you look at our results since October we’ve had only had one bad spell when we had no full backs. We needed to be strong.’
Fortune may have been on Arsenal’s side – they benefited from a dreadful decision by assistant referee Mike Flynn in the first half that deprived Everton winger Royston Drenthe of a legitimate goal.
Flynn was same official who enraged Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson earlier in the season when awarding Newcastle a penalty at Old Trafford and David Moyes was similarly aghast by his performance. In some way, though, Arsenal earned their good fortune.
On target: Vermaelen salutes the travelling fans
They should have been in front after six minutes. Mikel Arteta, returning to Goodison for the first time since his 10million move last August, clipped a ball into Robin van Persie, who unselfishly headed down to Aaron Ramsey only for the Welshman to skew his shot high and wide.
It was a dreadful miss but the manner in which Arsenal created the chance had set the tone. In the next attack, Sylvain Distin had to fling himself in front of a blockbuster from Ramsey but the reprieve was only temporary. Van Persie swung in the resulting corner and, unopposed, Vermaelen, who marked his Arsenal debut with a goal on this ground in August 2009, rose highest in between the static Marouane Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic to power a firm header past Tim Howard.
Through the gap: Steven Pienaar dodges Alex Song and Bacary Sagna
Goodison usually comes to life on nights like this but the home crowd was stunned into silence by what they were seeing. Sensing that their hosts were vulnerable, Arsenal steamed forward at every opportunity, shooting whenever an opening presented itself.
First van Persie tested Howard. Tomas Rosicky went close. Even Kieran Gibbs, playing almost as a left winger, attempted to get in on the act.
While Arsenal’s play was slick, this was
a pale shadow of the Everton side that had overpowered Manchester City,
Chelsea and Tottenham in their last three homes games and Moyes’ body
language – all shrugs and headshakes – told the story.
Denied: Tomas Rosicky sees his effort saved by Tim Howard
They barely raised a gallop in the first 30 minutes yet, ironically, they could consider themselves unlucky not to restore parity after the half-hour when Drenthe was wrongly adjudged to be offside after beating Wojciech Szczesny from eight yards.
'There were five decisions that were
wrong,’ said Moyes. ‘It was a goal. We have had a raw deal with some
poor decisions against us recently. This has cost us. In the first 20
minutes I thought “goodness me” but we came back into it after that.’
Moyes is never afraid to tear a strip
off his players and the way in which they began the second period gave
the impression that he had delivered a few home truths at half-time.
Familiar face: Mikel Arteta made his return to Goodison Park
Everton are never better than when
they are pressing and playing at a high tempo and both those traits were
evident straight away. Fellaini, anxious to atone for his part in the
goal, went close with a header from a Leighton Baines free-kick.
Though Szczesny dealt comfortably
with it, suddenly there was passion in the hitherto muted stands and
the players began to feed off the supporters’ energy. Fellaini made
himself a nuisance, popping up in all corners of the pitch.
But no matter what Everton tried,
Arsenal stood firm and they finished the stronger and should have had a
second goal when Van Persie blazed over following a good work by
Aerial battle: Leon Osman and Alex Song tussle
‘If we’d scored the second goal it would maybe have been a psychological blow to Everton,’ said Wenger. ‘But they came back into the game. Credit to them. In the second half we hung on until the last 15 minutes when we started to create chances again. Now we have confidence.’
And, most crucially, control of their destiny.
IN FOCUS by John Edwards
Howard Kendall: The former Everton midfielder and manager, now 65, was caught on camera before kick-off deep in conversation with friends. He is a frequent visitor to Goodison Park and was on hand to offer his support again.
Mikel Arteta: When the teams were read out, loud cheers all round greeted the name of Arsenal’s summer buy on his return to Goodison Park.
Leighton Baines: Everton’s England defender continued his remarkable run. He was playing at left back for a 97th consecutive game, having played every minute of the previous 96.